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Universal waste generator requirements

Introduction

This Fact File gives a detailed look at universal waste generator requirements. Regulations and requirements differ depending on the amount of waste accumulated. It is important to know the requirements for both generator/handler categories. Universal waste handlers are not just those that generate or produce universal waste, but also those who receive universal waste from other handlers. Presented here are requirements for Small Quantity Handlers of Universal Waste (SQHUWs) and Large Quantity Handlers of Universal Waste (LQHUWs).

Background

EPA promulgated universal waste regulations on May 11, 1995. Federal universal waste regulations apply to five types of waste:

  • Mercury-containing equipment: Devices that have elemental mercury vital to their purpose, including thermostats, but does not include batteries or lamps.
  • Pesticides: Substances that are meant for preventing or mitigating pests or for use as a plant regulator or defoliant. This does not include animal drugs and animal feed that has animal drugs.
  • Batteries: Devices with one or more electrically connected electrochemical cells intended to receive, store, and send electric energy. This includes nickel cadmium batteries and lead acid batteries.
  • Lamps: Bulbs or the tube part of electric lighting devices that are intended to make radiant energy. This includes mercury vapor lamps, fluorescent light bulbs, neon lights, and other kinds of bulbs.
  • Aerosol cans: EPA proposed adding aerosol cans to the federal universal waste list in March 2018. This includes aerosol cans used for dispensing paints and solvents.

The universal waste regulations developed two groups of generators of universal waste, called handlers, based on the amount of universal waste accumulated onsite. The two groups are Small Quantity Handlers of Universal Waste and Large Quantity Handlers of Universal Waste. There are different requirements for each.

Small Quantity Handlers of Universal Waste

Small Quantity Handlers of Universal Waste accumulate less than 5,000 kilograms of universal waste at any one time onsite. They must comply with the following:

  • Label or mark each universal waste or its container to recognize the universal waste kind,
  • Manage universal waste in a way that averts releases to the environment,
  • Immediately respond to releases of universal waste and correctly manage released waste,
  • Issue basic waste handling and emergency information to employees to guarantee that staff is mindful of proper procedures,
  • Accumulate universal waste for no more than one year, and
  • Comply with export requirements for foreign shipments.

It is recommended that companies keep records of universal waste management as a best management practice. Handlers must comply with U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) hazardous materials requirements, if relevant. An EPA Identification Number and Manifest is not required for SQHUWs.

Large Quantity Handlers of Universal Waste

Large Quantity Handlers of Universal Waste (LQHUWs) accumulate 5,000 kilograms or more of universal waste at any one time onsite. The designation as a LQHUW is kept for the remainder of the calendar year in which the 5,000 kg threshold was exceeded and may be reevaluated in the following calendar year. They must comply with the following:

  • Label or mark each universal waste or its container to recognize the universal waste kind,
  • Manage universal waste in a way that averts releases to the environment,
  • Immediately respond to releases of universal waste and correctly manage released waste,
  • Ensure that all employees are very familiar with appropriate waste handling and emergency procedures relative to their tasks during normal operations and emergencies,
  • Accumulate universal waste for no more than one year,
  • Comply with export requirements for foreign shipments,
  • Get an EPA Identification Number, and
  • Keep records of all universal waste shipments received by and sent from the facility. Records must be retained for three years.

It is not mandatory for handlers to use a hazardous waste manifest for offsite shipments of universal waste, but they must comply with U.S. DOT hazardous materials requirements, if relevant.

Applicable laws & regulations

40 CFR 273 — Standards for Universal Waste Management

Related definitions

Manifest: A multipart form, EPA Form 8700-22 intended to track hazardous waste from the time it leaves the generation site until it arrives at the Treatment, Storage, and Disposal Facility specified.

Universal waste transfer facility: Any transportation-related facility including loading docks, parking areas, storage areas, and other like areas where shipments of universal waste are held during the normal course of transportation for ten days or less.

Key to remember

Although universal wastes are considered hazardous wastes under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), unlike many other hazardous wastes, universal wastes are not automatically considered hazardous wastes under the DOT Hazardous Materials (HAZMAT) regulations since they do not need hazardous waste manifests when transported. Yet, it is imperative to note that the RCRA requirements do not preempt DOT’s standards if a material is a hazmat of its own accord.

Real world example

Failure to properly follow universal waste regulations can result in hefty fines for companies. Some of the most common universal waste violations include:

  • Failure to label universal waste. All universal waste needs to be labeled “Universal Waste” followed by a description.
  • Failure to store universal waste lamps in a closed container. All universal waste lamps need to be in a container that securely closes to prevent mercury vapor from escaping into the air.

One company that collects and recycles universal waste lamps and mercury containing equipment and batteries in Missouri was fined a $118,800 civil penalty for RCRA violations of universal waste. Specific violations included failure to maintain acceptable aisle space in storage areas, failure to close universal waste containers, failure to sample crushed glass to test for mercury levels, problems with employee training documentation, and issues with job description documentation. Correctly complying with universal waste requirements safeguards a company from environmental disaster and excess financial burden in the form of fines and civil penalties.